Extra Points: Eagles Taking Patient Approach with Hurts
It looks like the Jalen Hurts era won't be starting for a while.
With the Eagles and the rest of the NFL reduced to conducting virtual offseason workouts, teams are expected to rely heavily on experienced players to fill key roles once the season starts.
And no role is more key than quarterback.
For that reason, the Eagles are planning on taking a patient approach with Hurts, whom they drafted in the second round with the 53rd overall pick.
If/when they open training camp, Nate Sudfeld will be the main backup behind Carson Wentz.
"Having played in this league for so long and seeing this pandemic and thinking back to when we came out of the lockout year (in 2011), I think early on in this season, this becomes a veteran-laden football season," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday in a Zoom conference call. "Football teams are going to have to rely on their veteran players, and Nate is one of those guys for us."
Sudfeld has been with the team since 2017, but has only played in three regular-season games in three seasons while serving primarily as the No. 3 quarterback behind Wentz, Nick Foles (2017-18) and Josh McCown (2019).
Last season, he was expected to be the top backup, but broke his collarbone in a preseason game. McCown, who was serving as a volunteer assistant high school coach in Charlotte, took over and Sudfeld was left holding a clipboard for the entire season.
Yet, he's intimately familiar with Pederson's offensive system. In contrast, Hurts is trying to pick it up via the team's Microsoft Teams platform.
"(Sudfeld) has been on our roster now for the last couple of seasons and he knows exactly what we're doing," Pederson said. "I have a ton of confidence in Nate to become the backup quarterback. Nothing is ever handed to anybody, and we always try to create competition at every position, and quarterback — as you guys know — is not exempt from that. But I fully expect Nate to come in and be aggressive and do the things that he's capable of doing and become the backup to Carson."
That's not to suggest the depth chart will remain intact for the entire season.
Hurts, who enjoyed an outstanding college career at Alabama and Oklahoma, is viewed as a two-way threat a la Baltimore's LaMar Jackson, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Arizona's Kyler Murray and others. Once he becomes confident and comfortable in the system, there's every reason to believe he will at least play a speciality role in the offense this season.
Given Wentz's lack of durability - he hasn't finished a season since his rookie year in 2016 - there's even a possibility Hurts could emerge as the team's franchise quarterback in the not-too-distant future.
"Jalen's about right now just learning our system," Pederson said. "There's a lot to learn from the quarterback position. Are we going to take it a little bit slower with him until he grasps the offense?
You might have to.
"What I like about it is that there's always the unknown. And the unknown is how well a guy, I think, can progress. And then once we get them on the grass, put them through the drills, put them through practices, and then we see exactly what these guys are all about. But right now, Jalen is doing an outstanding job of picking up the offense, spitting it back to (quarterback coach and passing game coordinator) Press (Taylor) and understanding what we're trying to get done. And we go that route with him right now at this time."
Under normal circumstances, the Eagles would be getting on the grass around now with the start of OTAs. But the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown everyone's schedule into a state of flux.
The Eagles started their virtual workouts for veterans on April 27. Rookies were permitted to participate on May 11. Training camp is scheduled to begin in late July.
Although the offseason program is voluntary, Pederson said he's put his trust in the players to be prepared for when the Eagles are given the go-ahead by the NFL to start training camp. The four-days-a-week program is divided between virtual sessions with the strength-and-conditioning staff and their position coaches.
"I just didn't want guys to be idle," he said. "I think when you become idle, it becomes a challenge. This way, it gets the guys up, it gets the guys moving, it gets the guys thinking about football.
"Is it right? I don't know. We still don't know if training camp is going to start on time. But at the same time, I do know at least we're getting some football done and hopefully we'll be better off for it."
Regardless of when it starts, it's looking like Andre Dillard will be the starting left tackle instead of Jason Peters, despite some rumors to the contrary.
The Eagles haven't closed totally the door on a possible return by Peters, but it's now only slightly ajar.
Dillard, the team's first-round draft pick in 2019, was inconsistent in brief playing time as a rookie, mainly due to a lack of strength. But Pederson seemed confident that Dillard will be ready to handle the job this season.
"We know and he understands that strength is a big part of playing offensive line," Pederson said. "But that's something that can be worked on in the offseason and that's what he’s doing right now,” Pederson said. "I've got a ton of confidence in Andre in getting him back on the grass. Andre Dillard was a guy we drafted to be that left tackle for us."
Of course, it's one thing to be impressed with how someone performs during virtual workouts.
Let's see how Dillard, Sudfeld and Hurts fare when they finally get on the grass.
Whenever that is.
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